Columbia CEO concerned about safety of downtown employees

Columbia Sportswear is considering pulling its Sorel brand out of its Portland office due to problems with homeless.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle says his employees in downtown Portland are being intimidated and threatened.

He's getting a lot of attention after writing an opinion piece in the Oregonian. He said he's concerned about his employees' safety in downtown Portland.

Sorel is one of the brands under the Columbia Sportswear umbrella.

The Sorel headquarters moved in above the flagship Columbia store at SW Taylor and Broadway about a year ago. But already, Boyle said he's concerned he may have made a mistake when he decided to move Sorel to the location.

He said his employees are hassled, harassed and threatened and now he's reevaluating whether to move Sorel's headquarters.

“We hope we will see some action because Columbia isn't the only business that we hear this form,” said Sandi McDonough, President and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance. She said complaints from other Portland businesses come in on a daily basis.

“There is clearly an issue that's impacting the livability in our community and it needs to be addressed. If people are seeing the kind of activities that the Sorel employees saw, that makes them wonder about being there,” McDonough said.

She said one of her employees had a recent run-in as well.

“One of our street ambassadors was hit in the face last week by a homeless person,” said McDonough, who also added that the attack was unprovoked. 

Boyle said one of his employees had to run into traffic when a stranger followed her and threatened to kill her.

“On other occasions our employees have arrived at work only to be menaced by individuals camping in the doorway.”

“It is a relief when the only thing we are dealing with is the garbage and human waste by our front door. Think about that for a minute,” wrote Boyle.

People working in the area said it's normal to go out and avoid eye contact.

“You do feel it every time you walk out of the office. You sort of feel like you have to run the gauntlet because it's on every street corner now,” said Nick Garrow, who works down the street from the Columbia store.

McDonough said she hopes more will be done to address homeless and livability issues in all parts of the city. She said it’s not just the downtown area that needs help in dealing with the issues.

Mayor Ted Wheeler did not want to comment on Monday, but a statement from the mayor's office over the weekend reads in part, "I have a good relationship with Tim Boyle... he feels very strongly that we can improve cleanliness and safety downtown. I agree with him. We’ve already taken positive steps in that direction, increasing trash cleanup, enforcing right-of-way laws, more walking beats. And we're doing more, giving PPB the ability to recruit and retain more officers.”

Boyle said the company has bought new security doors and hired extra security, but those measures have not been enough. He also wrote that his downtown employees have had to deal with a lot of car break-ins. 

Boyle said he will be taking the next 90 days to reevaluate Sorel's location downtown. Last week senior management with the company talked through the challenges and options for addressing the issues they’re facing.

In his opinion piece, Boyle said “we are not going to sit quietly while our colleagues at work are threatened, intimidated and worse. And the City Council shouldn’t be quiet about it either.”

He said Wheeler’s proposal to add 80 police officers was an “important step and something that deserves prompt support.”

© 2017 KGW-TV


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